Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

John Ross, "Dirty war tactics," Latinamerica Press, June 1, 2006.

Between 1970 and 1982, three Mexican presidents waged a "dirty war" against dissidents from one end of the country to the other. Recently compiled documentation lists 15,000 illegal detentions during that period, thousands of instances of torture, and the forced disappearance of more than 700 Mexican citizens.

Nowhere was the dirty war more cruelly fought than along the Pacific coast of Guerrero state where farmers had risen in rebellion behind the rural school teacher-turned guerrillero Lucio Cabañas and his Party of the Poor.

Carlos Montemayor, author of "War in Paradise," perhaps the most vehement exposé of that repression, is an assiduous scholar of the dirty war in Guerrero.

Writing in the left-leaning daily La Jornada, Montemayor recently described the characteristics of that counter-insurgency campaign against farming villages along the Guerrero coast, and the striking similarities to the May 4 assault on San Salvador Atenco, a poverty-stricken town outside of Mexico City by thousands of highly militarized police to quell a campesino rebellion, which was sparked when police tried to bar flower vendors from selling their products in the area.

According to Montemayor’s description, first an overwhelming force is assembled with the primary mission of totally subjugating a recalcitrant population. Shock troops terrorize the civilian population into submission. Indiscriminate beatings, home invasions, the theft of personal items of value, and the systematic destruction of property are encouraged by police commanders. Women are raped and sexually abused to underscore the occupation force’s total domination over the rebellious villagers.

Damages in raid’s wake

Virtually all of these tactics were used in San Salvador Atenco May 4 when 3,000 armed state police and the Federal Preventative Police, a force largely extracted from the Mexican military, entered San Salvador Atenco, a town of 30,000 on the dried lake beds east of the capital, killing one 14-year-old boy, leaving a 20-year-old student hovering between life and death, and arresting 209, all of whom required hospitalization from the beatings they received under security force batons. Of 47 women arrested, 23 reported that they had been raped or were otherwise sexually abused. One 53-year-old mother who had gone to a local store to buy a birthday present for her son alleged that she forced to perform oral sex on three police officers to avoid arrest.

Those arrested included farmers, human rights observers, lawyers, reporters, foreigners, and supporters of the Zapatista’s Other Campaign who had traveled to San Salvador Atenco at the urging of Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos. All were originally held on charges of participating in an organized criminal conspiracy, a crime that mandates a 20-year sentence.

One object of such collective repression, noted Montemayor, is the identification and elimination of local leadership. In Atenco, the most identifiable voice of the farmers’ rebellion is Ignacio del Valle, a leader of the Popular Front for the Defense of the Land whose militants picked up their broad machetes three years ago and successively defended the town’s corn lands from expropriation by President Vicente Fox for a new, multi-billion dollar Mexico City International Airport. Del Valle was arrested during the raid.

At least 23 complaints of sexual assault including seven rapes have been registered with the government National Human Rights Commission and the nongovernmental Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center.

In charge on the ground was Mexico state public security director Wilfrido Robledo, the disgraced ex-head of the Federal Preventative Police under ex-President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) and cousin of drug kingpin Mario Valenzuela, former governor of Quintana Roo who is currently detained in the same maximum-security prison that now houses del Valle and the leadership of the Popular Front.

Montemayor points out that because such collective repression is bound to be politically damaging, the political class must sign off on acts of state violence either prior to the attack or once the repression has been accomplished. The assault on Atenco was no exception. Vicente Fox, his right-wing National Action Party or PAN — and its presidential candidate Felipe Calderón — along with once-ruling (71 years) Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Roberto Madrazo endorsed the hard-line shown at Atenco. Left-center challenger Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Revolutionary Democratic Party also declined to condemn the police brutality.

In contrast to the candidates and their political parties, the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign, an anti-electoral crusade designed to weld together Mexico’s underclass in an anti-neo-liberal alliance, has raised the atrocities committed at Atenco as a flag of resistance.

One of those cities was Vienna, Austria where President Fox was greeted by demonstrators shouting their outrage at human rights abuses in Atenco as he arrived for the EU-Latin America/Caribbean summit.

Poor timing

The San Salvador Atenco atrocities took place the same week Mexico assumed a position on the newly revised United Nations Human Rights Commission alongside such formidable human rights abusers as China, Russia, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia. Mexico joins the commission "with its hands bloodied" by the repression in Atenco, said National Human Rights Commission ombudsman José Luis Soberanes, an outspoken critic of the Fox regime’s human rights record.

"We are again convoked by our pain," Subcomandante Marcos told thousands in a driving rainstorm a mile from the presidential palace on May 12. "Who can listen to the stories of the women of Atenco, to the men, to the old people who were beaten, and the youth, and remain indifferent? No, not us, not those who are part of the Other Campaign." Marcos said that the Other Campaign will remain in Mexico City indefinitely until all the farmers of Atenco are released from prison.
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